|Accidental Death of an Anarchist | Epicentre Theatre Company|
|Written by lloyd bradford (brad) syke|
|Friday, 29 June 2012 07:49|
Left – Con Costi and Jessica Leafe
I must say, I like the title of Dario Fo's relatively early work, Accidental Death Of An Anarchist, in Italian. Morte accidentale di un anarchico. Anarchists die so much more romantically in that language. But that's neither here, nor there. Nobel winner Dario Fo, of course, comes across as a colourful and peripatetic individual. Unlike many writers who are notoriously precious about their work (Thomas Bernhard is a typical, topical one that springs to mind), Fo encourages adaptation, to fit the geopolitical context in which his plays may be performed. The Costi brothers (not fruiterers, but imaginative theatremakers), Michael & Constantine (they should open an ad agency, wit those initials), have taken this to heart. But this permission can be taken too far. And it has been, in this, Epicentre Theatre Company's current production.
To be accurate, the actual adaptation is by Gavin Richards (translation by Gillian Hanna). But I get the sense that most of the tweaking and extemporaneous flourishes are down to the Costis; not least Con, who also stars, as The Maniac. All is not lost, but the serious undertow of this punchy political satire risks being diverted and diminished by reducing much of the action to trivial slapstick farce. (It is a farce, technically, but it's more than that.) That's a shame, in more ways than one, not least in terms of insulting the memory of Guiseppe Pinelli. Pinelli emerged from a fourth-floor window of a Milanese cop shop in 1969, only to be splattered on the pavement below. Did he jump, or was he pushed? There isn't too much doubt about it. Just reasonable doubt, I guess; which is, as it should be at law, more than enough to keep the perpetrators from successful prosecution. Pinelli may or may not have been guilty of a bank bombing. We'll never know. Excuse the pun, but this is the jumping-off point for Fo's concerted attack on fascism, authoritarianism, corruption and stupidity. I say jumping-off point, not to be flippant, but because, having acknowledged this fact of life, the play takes off on its own fictional course.
It's odd that M & C Costi have allowed things to fly so far over the top and out of control. Perhaps they were seeking to ironically exemplify a certain ironic nihilism and anarchy in the hallowed (or hollowed) halls of Lombardy bureaucracy. If so, it's a decision compatible with Fo's intention: to discredit, ridicule and shred any vestige of reputation the investigating police might've had. But it lapses, at times, into sheer silliness, at odds with the work's raison d'etre; surprising, given the solemnity with which the directorial duo introduce it, in their programme notes. They clearly understand the broader, insidious left-right rift that wracked the whole of Italy in the 60s and 70s. So it seems to be just a lapse of judgment along the twisting path that is the production process. They've somewhat lost the plot.
That said, there's plenty on offer that's novel, invigorating, fresh (in more ways than one) and inventive. The gilt-framed portrait on the wall sliding open to reveal a live band is but one example, which points to the cleverness of Ben Wilson's set design, for one thing. Alice Joel's costumes are appropriately eccentric, too. But it's performances that make or break a production.
Jessica Leafe plays Bertozzo, an inspector not unlike Clouseau. Unfortunately, Leafe doesn't have the vocal presence that brings the kind of pseudo-gravitas to the role that, in turn, drives its comic potential.
We're soon introduced to The Maniac, played by Con Costi. He looks like the Clark Kent, or Harvey Lee Oswald, of anarchists. A nerd on a mission. His mission? To manipulate and expose the pigs for the bent, fascist relics they are. As the action rollercoasters on, Costi becomes increasingly frenetic, veering, oddly and uncomfortably, somewhere between (a more outspoken) Harpo Marx, Woody Allen and Austin Powers. It's impressively energetic and entertaining but becomes more about 'look what I can do!' than 'observe the paucity of intelligence and morality in my antagonists'.
Jasper Garner Gore(have he and Tim Rogers ever been seen in the same room together?)'s reading of Pissani, the very picture of a sleazy investigator, hits the right mark and, had the other performances been calibrated according to his, we might have a more potent outcome.
Emily Sheehan, like Leafe, sounds a little strained and shrill as the Superintendent and also failed to convince. Meg Biggs' Feletti, a would-be, dirt-digging journo gets a pass mark as a willing interment of Fo' conceit: he would seem to have little more regard for reporters than police.
Along with Gore, it's Stephen Lloyd Coombs (who recently distinguished himself in New Theatre's invigorated Lord Of The Flies) who elicits the nod of approval, as the Constable. He proves himself to be an almost impossibly versatile young actor, as adept with comedy as intense drama.
Epicentre's production, while very colourful and imbued with life, falls short of giving what is probably Fo's best-known its full due, in terms of its uncompromising slash-and-burn approach to institutional governance.
Epicentre Theatre Company presents
The Accidental Death of an Anarchist
by Dario Fo
Venue: Zenith Theatre | Cnr McIntosh and Railway Streets Chatswood
Dates: 22 – 30 June, 2012
Times: Wed–Sat 8pm, plus Sun 24 June 5pm and Sat 30 June 2pm
Bookings: 9777 7547 | www.epicentretheatre.org.au
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